September 30, 2013

Revelations


By Jeannette Bodnar

Friday Night was the last main stage event of the year.
The line-up included Lucie Wilk, Dennis Cooley, Lauren Carter, Daniel Canty, and Andrew Pyper. I never know what to expect at main stage events. Despite the descriptions, the influence of audience, artist, and subject keep you from knowing where the night will lead. Friday night was no exception. The previous venues of the week had proved a combination of performance art, education, and therapy. The title, Revelations, gave me the impression that Friday night would also prove to be a combination of the three.
The evening began with a reading by Lucie Wilk. Her book, The Strength of Bone, is set in Malawi and focuses on a doctor and the revelations he comes to through his experiences and interactions. The first excerpt Wilk read could be described as revelations through the lens of a microscope. Wilk, a doctor herself, demonstrates the importance of connecting with what you write. I have read books where the protagonists are doctors, and although they are well researched books, the way Wilks is able to convey the cellular world in such beautiful detail shows her passion for inner workings of the human body, giving the reader the gift of believable insight into the mind of protagonist Dr. Henry Bryce.
The next to read was Dennis Cooley. Cooley’s collection of poems entitled The Stones was a nice contrast to the sombre mood set by Wilk. Dennis seems like the kind of guy you could meet in a pub and he’d tell you a simple story about anything - a stone for example - and you’d turn it over in your mind for the next three days trying to grasp the greater significance of it all. I think the greatest poets do that, they’re able to make a boulder size impression with only a pebble. Cooley’s wit makes his poetry accessible and fun. I imagine I will read this collection in a single afternoon, not having the self-control to examine the finer elements of its structure until my second time through.
LaurenCarter was the last to take the stage before intermission. Her debut book, Swarm, is set in the near future and examines the process of revelation through Sandy, a protagonist who must examine her past to come to terms with her present desires. Both the premise and setting of this book are intriguing. Although set in the future, the story is not consumed by the complexities and details of futuristic life the way other sci-fi narratives might. Instead, the futuristic setting seems to bring forth the obstacles needed for the protagonist to explore her inner conflict. Carter’s reading was eloquent and left the audience spellbound.
The first author to return to the stage after the break was Daniel Canty. Wigrum, a collection that Diehl described as “a compendium of voices delicately written, delicately observed”, is a compilation that Canty explains can be read in any order. Diehl proposed the question to the audience: “Can you reconstruct a life from objects left behind?” I’m still not sure, but my brief glimpse into Canty’s charming vignettes gave me the sense of that which we leave behind has the power to connect us to others. Canty’s capacity to seamlessly weave humour and compassion in his writing demonstrates his knack for showing the darkness and light of life in a distinct format.
The final author to grace the stage was Andrew Pyper. Pyper generously set up his reading by explaining that he is constantly drawn to the ghost story collections so typically found in airports and supermarkets. After reading countless collections of these stories Pyper explained that: “what emerged was how often people disregard what emotional things are happening in their lives (when the paranormal happens).” He drew what he regarded as, “a connection between the emotional experience and the supernatural.” Pyper’s reading of The Demonologist had the audience on the edge of their seats, and made for an eerie ending to the evening.
It’s my understanding that the closest thing to undergoing a personal revelation is to experience one through characters written by a great writer. Friday’s main stage event reinforced my belief that authors are magicians with the capacity to transform a reader in way that only time would otherwise have the power to do. I once read that having a baby is like falling in love and experiencing a revolution. Friday night’s authors proved that reading a good book can be the same.

The Kids are Ultra Violet

By Chimwemwe Undi


Shaden Abusaleh on stage at the "Youth Open Mic".

The rain that pattered down on streets was made suddenly beautiful by fall as people gathered in the Winnipeg Free Press Café for Thin Air’s "Youth Open Mic". The audience bristled with excitement and support for the group of people who gathered their courage and shared, often for the first time, words that had been living in notebooks and lingering on minds.
 
Eva Rodrigues on stage and on fire!
 Expectations, whatever they were, were absolutely exceeded. People tend to underestimate youth, and forget that they are uniquely capable of a simultaneous naivety and maturity that often disappears with age. The poems were unexpected. Topics ranged from solidarity with Syrian youth to battling with mental illness, and even the topics that would often be described dismissively as adolescent, were approached with thoughtfulness and finesse. I climbed onto the stage, intimidated and inspired by each person who was as young as me or younger, and who had turned their personal experiences into such magnificent art.

Luke Cameron: passionate prairie boy.

Slam poetry is a medium that encourages individuality. Every poem you perform is impossible without you, and at a time when so many of us feel inconsequential, that is a powerful thing to have. It allows you to find your voice and to raise it, to realize that the personal is universal and the universe needs your personality. Shaden, a young poet who moved the crowd with her musings on humanity’s interdependency, said “True power lies within our youth”, and this event was evidence enough.

The Kids Are Alright


By Jeannette Bodnar

The packed house during Saturday afternoon's "Youth Open Mic".

Saturday afternoon was the "Youth Open Mic", and without offending any of the wonderful, brilliant, and engaging authors I’ve had the honour to see this week, I have to say that this event was my favourite. Hosted by Steve Locke, and held at the Free Press Café, exceeded all expectations of success.

Before I start with a description of the event, I would like to take a mental detour to put in context some the reasons that this event was so profound.

PREPARE FOR RANT…

So, I am part of the 30 plus generation (GenX, I guess) who regularly uses the computer but has absolutely no idea how it works. I call my computer "the happy magic box". Being 30 plus and a regular Facebook user, I am privy to the posts of other thirty-something computer users.

As someone who was born in the 70’s and grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, I guess I was the only one eating hotdogs and downing Kool-Aid while binge watching five hours of pre-recorded In Living Color??  I’m not saying that I never went outside or that kids today shouldn’t spend more time outside, but the whole “when I was your age” diatribe is not only out-dated and over-done,  it also implies that we all somehow grew up to be astronauts and Olympians. It just reeks of sanctimonious bull-turds! Not to mention that the same people who post these gold-nuggets of antediluvian insight spend an equal number of wasted hours (if not more) on their phones, in front the t.v., or chasing the white rabbit down the never-ending hole of “click here” links, as their young adversaries do. 

Youth poet Chimwemwe Undi.

For any young people who don’t know who Andy Rooney is, picture the old guy who lives on your street and chases all the kids off his lawn. Now imagine if that old man had a weekly forum in which he got paid to air his complaints. That was Andy Rooney.

The truth is, the Andy Rooney wannabes do not represent my generation. No more so than the Justin Biebers or any one of the many obnoxious former Disney twits represent this new generation of young and talented people.

And for all those who want to argue with me, I challenge you to honestly, without judgment or interruption, spend an hour listening to some of our youth. On Saturday I spent over two hours doing so. And what I found was a group that was more insightful, more dedicated to their art, more alive, more intelligent, more in touch with world events, and more thoughtful than many adults I know.

So instead of describing the experience of the event I’m going to leave you with some of their words:  

“And I became a slave to my deficiencies.” (Nick Kastellanos)

“My life has always been a life devoted to the little things. I think it’s time to focus on the bigger picture.” (Brandon Case)
 
The animated Brandon Case.

“The temptations got so high that in reality all you did was lie.” (Jeanette Reyes)

“The air becomes thick with the smell of barbequed meals.” (Eva Rodrigues)

“THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, I THINK” (Steve Locke ***not a young person in this context but younger than me)

“Her body is the life blood from which we flourish.” (Luke Cameron)

“You abused your talents with street fights and late nights.” (Courtney Stevens)

“Perfection is not a destination. No, perfection is a disease.” (Tiana Northgate)

“Anxiety moves into you, settles between your shoulders, and proves to be a poor house guest.” (Chimwemwe Undi)

“Faith is a drop of mercury between minus 29 and minus 30.” (Amber)

“The power lies within our youth.” (Shaden Abusaleh)
 
Nick Kastellanos' lyrical assault.

This is just a sample of the many brilliant and astute observations of life that were shared Saturday afternoon. My hands don’t write fast enough to record every luminous insight that was given, so the scope of this blog post cannot possibly capture what was communicated. 

Furthermore, it takes tremendous courage to preform your art in front of a room packed full of people. I encourage you to check out the podcast of this event when it’s posted and to keep your eyes open for future open mics as I guarantee you will be blown away. I also encourage my generation to remind the younger generations that they have voices and if they are willing to share them we will be ready to listen.

These are the natural resources our country should be extracting!

The kids are alright!

A Night of Revelation


By Courtney Stevens


I thought it odd when I felt the urge to buy Andrew Pyper’s book, The Demonologist, back on Wednesday during the Poetry Bash. However, upon listening to Andrew’s melodic voice read aloud one of the most intense scenes in the novel, I quickly realized that was one of the best books I had purchased. 

The audience was a fair size, and I must agree with Charlene Diehl when she says that Winnipeg supports its authors. I never realized how many people were into the literary arts within the city, and was always overcome with amazement when I saw how many people came out just to listen and laugh with their favourite Winnipeg-bred story tellers. It truly is inspiring.

The lights dimmed and the audience went quiet. Lucie Wilk, who flew in from London, England, read to us from her book, The Strength of Bone. It was a beautiful, woven work that followed a Western medical doctor on his journey of rediscovery and … *snickers* revelation accompanied by a Malawian nurse. Lucie utilizes her medical training to make the book as personal and real, and takes us along with Bryce as he solves conflicts and makes crucial moral decisions that occasionally mean life and death for some people.

It’s hard to believe that someone can make an audience laugh and ‘aww’ in the span of only a few seconds the way Dennis Cooley can. Reading from his latest, The Stones, Dennis shared not only a number of plays on the word ‘stone’, but a range of messages and poems that were both inspirational and hysterical. Funny enough, The Stones was published by the company Turnstone, which would never have even existed had Dennis not been a part of it.

Lauren Carter, who had launched Swarm just last week, granted us the privilege to hear from the pages first. Lauren manages to capture an eerie, apocalyptic future of environmental crisis and economic downfall. Swarm features beautiful imagery that paints a vivid picture in the reader’s head, and gives an all-too-real sense that the world is very capable of coming to something like that unless we, as humans, drastically change our habits and addictions.

Now, back when it was mandatory, I struggled with the French language. To this day, I can pick up some words and get the general idea of sentences most of the time, but I always admire those who can speak the language fluently or, better yet, can speak both French and English fluently. Coming from Montreal, Daniel Canty had just been handed his English-translated Wigrum moments before stepping on to stage (he claimed the pages still smelled of fresh ink). He read bits and pieces that gave us an introspective vision of the main character, Sebastian Wigrum. Sebastian has taken a hobby to collect artifacts and curios that go overlooked by most, but all manage to connect to Sebastian in one way or another, giving us a delightful character and a colourful personality.

Last, but certainly not least, Andrew Pyper blessed us with his latest book, The Demonologist. Pyper shared that his goal or the book was to have two compelling characters bound together by some sort of emotion; in the case of The Demonologist, it’s ‘guilt’. The book follows Professor David Ullman’s journey to Venice along with Tess, his daughter. When Tess begins acting strange, David eventually confronts her on the roof of their hotel building with her final words, ‘Find me.’ Andrew’s combination of character development and horror makes The Demonologist a very intense book and, as Charlene put it, ‘Don’t read it before bed’.

Overall, the evening was intriguing and delightful as each author shared their stories of revelation and discovery, and I only regret not purchasing every book at the McNally Robinson stand as a token to look back on and smile.

September 27, 2013

Good Things Come in Threes


By Jeannette Bodnar

Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Jim Lynch and Charlene Diehl at Thursday's "Afternoon Book Chat".

I arrived at Thursday’s "Afternoon Book Chat" an hour-and-a-half before my shift as a volunteer. I’m a chronic procrastinator and I misread my schedule while eating a bowl of chowder and rushing my in-laws to catch their plane back to Vancouver. Anyway, I arrived early, much to the confusion of the McNally staff, who informed me that even the event co-ordinator wouldn’t be there for over an hour. They suggested that maybe I could read a book. The nice guy at the counter even tried to hide the “hey crazy lady, eager for human contact much” look behind a smile. So I did my best to cover my embarrassment behind some mumblings of schedule mix-up and scurried to the graphic novel section.

I spent the next hour-plus sauntering through the store, section by section, and before I knew it, it was time to set up for the afternoon event. I was helping out as an usher, and my experienced colleague Shirley showed me the ropes.

Not long before the event was supposed to begin, Charlene arrived appearing collected as always. However, after welcoming us and thanking us for helping out, she explained that this was the day, “all the wheels were falling off the bus.” Now, if you read my last entry, I might have written something about Charlene never losing her cool and the possibility of her being a cyborg, or something to that effect. And instead of asking her how I can help out, I say, “Don’t worry, things can get worse.”

At that moment, Shirley pipes in and basically says the same thing, but more eloquently. Anyway, in true Charlene form, she smiles and proceeds to welcome nearly every single person in the atrium graciously (still composed, still no sweat).

Then the event begins.

Jim Lynch.

Charlene takes her seat at the front of the room and with her are Jim Lynch and Elisabeth de Mariaffi. It turns out that Ian Williams (who was originally scheduled) missed his flight, and the flight he did catch was delayed. No worries, Charlene jumps right into things with a brief explanation and then a reading by Jim.

I loved the way Jim set up his reading. As someone who loves to write, I’m often as interested in the creative process as I am the material itself. Jim explained that the inspiration for the opening scene of Truth Like The Sun was a pair champagne flutes that were being sold in a consignment shop under the premise of being drunk from the night before the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Though it’s hard to grasp the essence of a book in the time constraints of a short reading, Lynch’s opening scene captures the pace and essence of the party atmosphere perfectly. He explained that he loves to write from the perspective of “an aggressive observer”. In reference to his character Miles O’Malley from The Highest Tide, he says, “Most of us go through life so oblivious that a boy who is paying attention could come across as a genius or a prophet.” When you hear/read Jim’s work, you recognize that he is an astute observer. One could argue that all writers are, but I think the writing craft draws from different strengths and Jim’s happens to be that he delivers details of a moment in a way that not only captures the picture, but also the time, beautifully.

Elisabeth was the next to read. Her book, How to GetAlong With Women, is a collection of short stories and one of the festival books that I’m most eager to read. She explained that her collection is about power dynamics, imbalances in power, and examining your role as a witness to these imbalances. Her stories are about “realizing that the power struggle is not what we thought it was.” For me, this was one of the most powerful statements of the afternoon. It’s just one of those phrases that can carry you through life, one of those powerful messages that can apply whether you’re looking at your own life or someone else’s. It was also the perfect introduction to the poetry of Ian Williams who, by now, had joined the panel.

 
Ian Williams and Elisabeth de Mariaffi.


Williams’s Personals is a collection of poetry that in his words, “comments on contemporary relationships.” He first read “Nutrition Facts,” an exploration of mature love well beyond the honeymoon phase. The poem delivers hard truths like, “your husband smells like Old Spice and then he will smell like Bengay.” Ian seems like a guy who enjoys working in the world of hard truths. In regards to the collection, he explained how “the nature of relationships have become superficial” due to the fact that modern connections are “mediated through technology”. Perhaps the most interesting, or rather provocative thing that was said by Williams was something to the effect of being tired of success, to which Lynch responded jokingly, “I can’t wait to be tired of my own success.” Williams followed the statement by explaining that we work in a society that has written a sort of prescription for success that promises that if you follow the steps/take the pill, you’ll arrive at happiness. His argument is that this predictable path to success is “dissatisfying at the end of the day.”

As someone who is on the tail end of her latest mid-life crisis, I can appreciate Williams’s view, and am intrigued to read the collection. Williams’s statement emphasized Lynch’s point about the importance of being an engaged observer and de Mariaffi’s statement on power struggles not being what we think they are. Life, like writing, should be about the journey, but many of us are so obsessed with the destination - finishing a book, buying a bigger house, getting a better job - that we forget to observe what’s happening along the way. Sometimes the mistakes, the detours, and the catastrophes we experience help us slow down and re-evaluate the struggle, then work for something other than the piece of cheese at the end of the maze. And what starts off as “wheels falling off the bus,” has the potential to turn into the equivalent of a Master’s class on the creative process.

I guess what it comes down to is: bad things happen in threes?

But in my experience, so do good things.

September 26, 2013

A Main Stage Bricolage


By Joshua Whitehead

The calm before the "bash".

Yesterday’s main stage event was titled, "Poetry Bash," and a wondrous bash it was. The two- hour event was a bricolage of poetic voices. Charlene Diehl, director of Thin Air, stressed the Poetry Bash’s importance in the festival and proclaimed Winnipeg as being a city that appreciates its poets. The roster of poets featured: Jon Paul Fiorentino, Robert Priest, Jennifer Still, Souvankham Thammavongsa and Jay MillAr.
             
The audience was full of a variety of people ranged in age. Fellow Canadian poet Meira Cook sat but a few rows behind me. Being a fan of Cook, a part of me wanted to run home, grab my copy of A Walker in the City and beg for an autograph. Impulses set aside, I recited “Adam Father” in my head and felt content. Joining the venue I entered the door prize, grabbed a beverage and eagerly sat in the second row.
            
JonPaul Fiorentino, a native to Transcona, was the first to read. He opened his set with a humbling shout-out to his old neighbourhood, which was quickly followed by a hilarious recounting of the numerous times he was beaten up. Fiorentino opened up the Poetry Bash with his breathy poetic rhythm and growling, elongated vowels. He introduced to us a sort of found poetry. One poem featured a series of complex pharmaceutical items -- who’d have thought that those long waits in doctor’s offices would lead to the jazz-like qualities of Fiorentino’s medicinal musicality? Fiorentino embodied Winnipeg’s motto, which he explained to us as being, “One with the strength of many.” His poetic style seemed to emulate the very essence of Winnipeg, and more over, of Transcona with its lively, violent lusciousness. 
            
RobertPriest was next to read, rising from the stage furniture as an eclectic character with a set of stylish, red-magnetic reading glasses. He opened with an interesting poem titled, “What is the Word?” Weaving through ad-libs and fill-in-the-blank poetics, Priest created a ‘You and I’ stream of consciousness style that allowed us to decide what the word truly was. He then moved into a delightful parody of Churchhill’s V-for-victory and reinstated the V-for-vagina stating that, “The inside of the vagina is as numinous as it gets.”  

His next poem, “Rights Left” was a theatrical exhibition wherein Priest reenacted a militaristic march. Mimicking the musicality of the soldier’s march, Priest played with direction: with right, with left, and with the movement of politics asking, “What rights do we have left?” Priest then introduced us to his experimental poetic style. He played with memes, re-sculpting and redefining the word ‘money’ by removing the ‘ne’ and adding in ‘mm’, thus creating ‘mommy’. His poem went on to exhibit the absurdity of capital through a drag-like performative inversion. Priest riddled through lines such as,” I have no mommy sense” and “mommy burns a hole in my pocket”.  

Lastly, Priest strapped on his guitar and played for us, in my opinion, his most powerful poem, “Bomb In Reverse”. The rhythm emulated childhood rhymes, though in its simple rhythm laid its powerful imagery. The poem acted as a means of rewinding the horrors of warfare. Having just read Keiji Nakazawa’s semi-autobiographical, anti-atomic manga, Barefoot Gen, I was deeply affected by Priests’ images. Priest went on to sing of a bomb imploding rather than exploding, of a bomb extinguishing children on fire, of a bomb sucking fire back into its shell. My entire experience with Priest truly was a backwards resurrection; a miracle; a bomb in reverse. 
            
Next up was Jennifer Still, the winner of The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry award, for her poem, “Spiny Oak Worm”. The poem was a barrage of beautiful imagery and colours, from a vibrant yellowness to water, to pink skin and moth wings. The poem featured a variety of beautiful lines that etched themselves into my mind, such as, “a wing darkening a word” or “a child you thought hatched inward”. The entirety of her poetic form was a chrysalis of sorts: the words being oak worms, the poem being the emerging winged insect. Still’s lulling voice matched perfectly with the poem’s metamorphosis. 

Still then went on to read her poem, “Lower Birth”. She explained that her inspiration came from her experiences of riding the rails in a sleeper car. Her rhythm was interesting as it shifted, like the tracks of a train; in and out of consciousness, from the reality of the railroad to the trance of the dream. Her anapestic rhythm mimicked the sound of a running train, the chuk-chuk-CHUK of it all. It called to mind the onomatopoeia of Allen Ginsberg’s, “boxcar, boxcar, boxcar”. In other segments, the fierce chugging of her rhythm became enchanting and fluid. Her poetics strongly resonated with me. Her images: powerful. Her cyclical birthing cycle: profound. And her sense of time: everlasting.
             
Next came the intermission. I purchased Still’s book, Girlwood, and gasped at her beautiful awarded ring as I received her signature. I refilled my beverage, briefly discussed my thoughts with the people around me and sat back down in earnest, waiting. 
             
SouvankhamThammavongsa was next to read. Having heard her earlier at the "Afternoon Book Chat", I came prepared for her affective poetic style. Thammavongsa, not tall enough for the podium, stood to its side and read with the microphone bent down to reach her. Though short in stature, her clear imagery and velveteen voice captured the audience. The man beside me, upon hearing her read, sat straight up, attentive. One of the kids in front of me leaned forward and perched his head in admiration. Thammavongsa captivated the audience with her reading of “Perfect”, and kept them entranced with wave after wave of her short but powerful “I Remember” poems. When she finished, the audience readjusted themselves, took a deep breath and contemplated deeply. A friend who was sitting beside me, turned to me and said, “She was my favourite of the night.” 
             
JayMillAr closed the show with a series of readings from his latest book of poetry, Timely Irreverence. MillAr’s poetics, in my opinion, were the most accessible of all five readers. His voice was universal as it spoke to everyone young and old. His existential meditations were provocative and thought-inducing while his narrative techniques reminded me a lot of the voice of the bildungsroman genre. He appeased my love for Young Adult fiction, and in fact, his style throughout his readings reminded me of the works of John Green and Stephen Chbosky. And though his style possessed a seemingly young poetic voice, it lent itself to the contemplation of the serious. I was enthralled by his poem on children and guns. In the eyes of the children he is observing, every object becomes an object of destruction, a gun. The suburban atmosphere quickly fills with a myriad of metaphorical child-soldiers. MillAR, perhaps speaking to the globalization and accessibility of violent spectacles, asks us to contemplate the origins and contaminative qualities of the violence that lies beneath the click-clack of your keyboard’s keys. 
             
This year’s Poetry Bash was a rollicking good time full of experimental styles, with imploding bombs and violent keyboards, with metamorphosing oak worms and the chugging of train tracks, with medicinal rhythms and embodied cities. As I left I couldn’t help but feel full of  inspiration and confidence to follow in the steps of such great Canadian poets.

Story Time!

By Steve Locke


Thin Air's "Writers to the Schools" program gives kids the opportunity to take in some fantastic storytelling by high-calibre artists. On Wednesday afternoon as a warm up for his main stage event, Toronto poet, author and musician Robert Priest entertained a class of elementary school kids with songs and poems from Rosa Rose, his collection geared towards youth.

Here are some photos from the reading, provided by plucky festival supporter, Mike Diehl.

Reading from Rosa Rose.


Singing "Space Spaghetti".

Leaking Memories, Imagined Shores


By Joshua Whitehead

The home of this week's series of Afternoon Book Chats.

Wednesday's "Afternoon Book Chat" at McNally Robinson was an offering of exceptional poetry. I was introduced to two poets: Souvankham Thammavongsa and Jay MillAr. Not having heard of these two poets, was for me, a great benefit as it allowed me to discover their poetics in its raw, oral form. Seeing them sitting before me with festival director Charlene Diehl at their side, I readied myself for an hour of vivid imagery and vivacious poetic language. At this point. the room was robust with energy: from the lulling whispers of teenage excitement to the furious scribbling of pen on paper from the women who sat next to me. 

Thammavongsa was the first to read. She chose a poem titled, “Perfect” from her latest collection, Light. Although small in height, Thammavongsa flooded every inch of the atrium with her soft, fluid voice. Written as a retroactive first person narrative, the poem maintained a powerful effective voice throughout, and upon it’s ending, cascaded into the realization of perfection, of it’s meaning, of its cost, and visibility. 

Thammavongsa writes, “I can’t begin to say what it took to get it that way. It’s perfect. Perfect.” Her repetition of perfect brings to mind an earlier line in the poem wherein she says, “like a Captain plugging leaks in a ship.” Thammavongsa’s poetics allow for a metamorphosis: for her to become the poem, for the poem to become the ship, for the ship to become the page with its leaking memories and liminality; all undoubtedly perfect in their rawness. 

After her reading, Thammavongsa explained that it was difficult for her to write “Perfect”, as it was a true event.  She talked about the twenty-year process, and that in placing the poem’s narrative in the first person, Thammavongsa was able maintain a sense of poetic agency, for her memories to remain alive and under her control. Thammavongsa stated that, “Putting it in the past made it feel like it was something I left.” Writing this blog post now, I see that memory is something that never leaves and never will. In respect, Thammavongsa’s poetics remain with me: her preservation, her reservation and her beautiful metamorphosing perfection. 

MillAr was next to read. His charm and humour were clearly evident through the explanation of his work. MillAr explained that poetry is difficult to talk about and even harder when it is your own work. He goes on to state that there is no answer to a poetry question, that behind every answer is another quote of poetry. MillAr likens the artistic process of his book to a 10x10 scaffolding project. He explained that he “stole” 10 titles from other Canadian poets such as Leonard Cohen and Phyllis Webb to help facilitate his creativity. Then to build upon this rigid structure, he created another 10 poems by taking passages from the body of other poems. 

MillAr read from his latest book, Timely Irreverence and chose to read “Eating and Being Eaten.” His full-breadth style differed greatly from Thammavongsa’s subtle poetry. MillAr’s poetics expanded and filled the page. His vastness was wonderfully exhibited in the opening of his poem, “I have never sought out large bodies of water./ They exist to seek me out.” His poem featured a steady rhythm, which never allowed his audience, nor himself, to stand still. MillAr announced, “There is so little stillness upon the land we occupy.”

With a charming personality and witty jokes, MillAr meditates with a seriousness in his poetry. He contemplates the sublimity of life and death while balancing between history and future, as well as artistry and familial duties. MillAr’s poem ended with a sense of equitable hope for his contemplative issues in proclaiming that, “The water will continue to break those imagined shores.” 

Today’s Afternoon Book Chat offered a wide array of emotional responses. I laughed with MillAr, I cried with Thammavongsa, and I contemplated the complicated process of artistry and vision with both. In leaving, I felt it only necessary to purchase both Light and Timely Irreverence and take with me for future reading the wonders of their vibrant poetry. 

Workshop Therapy

By Jeannette Bodnar


Hello Thin Air 2013!

This is my second year blogging for the festival and though I’ve gotten out of the gates a little late, there are enough events left that I’m still part of the race.

Tuesday evening I made it out to my first event of the year. Entitled, "Changing the Family Channel", the main stage welcomed Lauren B. Davis, Andrew Kaufman, Ann Shin, and Cassie Stocks.

Tuning into the Family Channel.

When I arrived at MTYP I found a seat, scoped out the wine and cheese table and immediately recognized faces from last year’s festival. Even with the familiar faces, I never know what to expect at Thin Air events as each venue brings along a different mix of personalities and energy with it. I contemplated trying the Chai Tea Monterey and noticed the man beside me, a familiar face from last year; and though I’m sure he didn’t recognize me he was polite enough to pretend he did. We shared our mutual scepticism of beverage flavoured cheese and updated each other on the progress of our personal blogs. I admired that he had last posted in 2010, as I have only written about five drafts ever, and have deleted anything I published immediately upon sobering up the next morning. The saddest part of this being that I lied and said I had written at least ten drafts, as though that would somehow make me a more accomplished unpublished internet author.
 
Did I mention that I’m as good at small talk as my socially awkward eighth grade self? 
As our conversation came to an end I made my way to the wine bar. The bartender smiled at me as I doubled up on napkins, a response to the “red wine on white canvas” art project that took place on my outfit last year. I perused the raffle prizes and returned to my seat. Massive apologies, again, to the lady in the aisle seat who I had to pass several times that night.
I settled in with my blogger luggage: giant purse, camera, camera bag, Thin Air standard issue notepad, pen, back-up pen, pencil in case I don’t feel writerly with my pen, raffle ticket, wine, decoder ring…

*Decoder ring not shown.

And Charlene Diehl took the stage.

As always Charlene began the evening with all the right words, the right energy, and the right introductions. I’m not sure how she does it every year, but every time I’ve ever seen her she’s smiling, she knows just the right thing to say, and I swear to you the woman DOES NOT sweat. I think she might be a cyborg. Just sayin’

Anyhooo… the first half of the evening the authors read their work. One after another they read excerpts that explore families, and like families, were sad and funny, and nostalgic but hopeful, and simple but complex, and beautiful but tragic, and strong.
 
INTERMISSION (more awkward conversation, more wine, more apologies to aisle seat lady)

"That jalepeno jack cheddar is calling my name."

Now, usually at main stage events an author will read his or her work and then discuss it. However at Tuesday’s event things were done differently. The authors read their works in succession then broke for intermission, and when we returned we watched a short film directed by Ann Shin, a compliment to her poetry collection The Family China.

What happened next was surreal. We all, the audience, sat through this film in which people broke antiques (vases, porcelain dolls etc.) and explored what emotions, thoughts, and feelings that process brought about in them, and collectively there was this feeling of reflection and nostalgia that overtook the room. You could feel everyone mentally working through their own baggage and identifying with the people on the screen. And, because the authors had already explored so many universal themes (like alcoholism, aging, loss, and relationships) of family dynamics, it became this moment where, I think for many people in the audience, their own fragile pieces of self were somehow broken or at the very least chipped. And in the middle of this therapeutic storm of self-reflection   Lauren B. Davis opens up and shares an intimate breakthrough about the writing of The Empty Room that literally happened moments earlier on stage.

And just like that we were all connected—the writers, the readers, and the unaccomplished internet wannabe bloggers—all wading through the swamps of dysfunction that flooded our minds with family memories.

In all the readings I’ve been to, this one was one of the most prolific in the sense that it clearly explored the creative process. I really felt that I had come out of both a therapy session and creative workshop when the evening ended. In regards to the film Cassie Stocks said that she created mosaics from broken pieces of tiles, and vases, and plates.

I think that’s what great writers do.





September 25, 2013

Smashing Idea!

 By Grae Burns


Last night’s main stage event, “Changing the Family Channel”, offered a unique presentation of the ideas that surround family.  Authors Lauren B. Davis, Andrew Kaufman, Ann Shin, and Cassie Stocks each took turns reading excerpts from their recently published works. The stories ranged from a woman coming to terms with her addictions, a grandmother trying to reconcile with her past with the help of her (unwilling) granddaughter, a series of poems addressing what we inherit from our families, and a story about a 27 year old painter who is just about to give up on her dreams when she meets and befriends a ghost named Gladys. 

Motherhood, nostalgia for an ideal past/childhood, hope, love, support, the need for independence, reconciliation and forgiveness were just some of the topics present, making it very clear that family is a very big, and very fluctuating idea.

A pair of lovely ladies enjoy a game of Pretzel Scrabble at MTYP.

To underscore this, the second half of the evening was dominated by Ann Shin’s film-in-progress, The Family China.  The film was made up of several series of photos, each documenting a person or people smashing a piece of china against a hard wood table, sometimes aided with a baseball bat or hammer.  As the items were meant to represent objects from individuals' lives, each photo was accompanied by a narration. The voices in these monologues explained what the items represented, from the joys of breaking free of inherited clutter, to breaking with outdated family values. The latter complimented the theme of the night, that the idea of family is in constant flux.

After the film, the authors took turns sharing what items they felt the characters in their stories would smash if they could. The list included a bottle, a window, a camera, and a bowl. They also took a moment to discuss the fear, exhilaration and liberation felt when breaking something, either literally or figuratively, that we have been conditioned to respect or revere. The authors then enthusiastically invited the audience to take part in what they dubbed “Smashing Parties.” 

As the night came to a close, the audience was left to consider what they had inherited from their own families, what ideals they might break away from, and what objects they might need to smash to make that happen. I, for one, left with the excitement of considering the dates for my very own smashing party.